As we wave goodbye to an NFL Combine that was dazzling in the defensive line department, intriguing in its collection of high-octane running backs and receivers, and just plain disappointing in the tight end group, it's time to buckle down and attempt to get a sense of what the Dolphins and the rest of the NFL will look to accomplish on draft night. These teams have nowhere to hide now; their 2012 offseason needs have been well documented, and their moves (or non-moves) in free agency can only further tip their hand as to which draft prospects they'll be in the hunt for this April.
Another well-documented fact is the likelihood that the 2012 NFL Draft could turn into a trade fest even before free agency begins on March 13. The St. Louis Rams, holders of the No. 2 selection, know that it will be almost impossible for the value of that pick to increase any further after what Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III did in Indianapolis last weekend. Can Griffin actually run a faster time at his pro day than the 4.41 he clocked during the Combine? Maybe, but does it really matter at this point? Griffin's a throw-first quarterback with blitzkrieg speed, and if you're the Rams, you want to sell that stock before it has any chance to cool off.
Because of the potential trade insanity brought on by Griffin's fierce Combine performance, I am going to break a sacred rule of mine and work trades throughout this mock. This will be the first, and perhaps final, time I do a mock draft with trades, so enjoy this for all it's worth.1) Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck, QB Stanford
RG3 may have clocked a formidably low time in the 40-yard dash last Sunday, but Luck wasn't too far behind in terms of athleticism. His vertical leap of 36 inches, broad jump of 10 feet, 4 inches, and 40 time in the mid 4.6s were all overwhelmingly impressive, but it's not like the Colts needed Combine numbers to confirm that Luck is their guy. His intelligence, leadership, accuracy, anticipation, size and mobility are why Luck will be the suitor to Peyton Manning's throne in Indianapolis.
2) Washington Redskins - Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor
If someone came up to you before last season and asked which guy--Daniel Snyder or Mike Holmgren--would be more likely to sell his soul in order to trade for the No.2 pick in the NFL Draft, you'd almost have to take Snyder, right? With that logic in mind, it's just difficult to fathom a situation where the Redskins' trigger-happy owner will actually be outgunned for RG3's services this spring. As to whether or not he includes his spleen and both kidneys in the deal remains to be seen, but the Rams are sitting on white-hot value ... and they know it.
Here's a little history lesson: the last time Minnesota selected an offensive tackle this high in the first round was USC's Ron Yary (No. 1 overall) in 1968. Considering the Vikings' nonexistent protection currently on the blindside, Minnesota better pray that USC's Matt Kalil can have a Yary-like effect on a line that helped ease quarterback Christian Ponder into a starting role by allowing him to get pummeled each and every Sunday last season. Kalil's potential as a run blocker is still in question, but he's a premier pass protector who flashed scary strength at the NFL Combine.
No Robert Griffin III at this spot means Cleveland could look to replicate the Bengals' 2011 draft and use a high pick on a devastating wide receiver, and though Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon didn't run in Indianapolis last Sunday, it'll take a Herculean pro day from Notre Dame's Michael Floyd to unseat Blackmon as the top receiver in this draft class. Blackmon doesn't have the elite height of A.J. Green or the running chops of Calvin Johnson, but he's a strong, soft-handed wideout whose ball skills are second to none.
This selection is by no means concrete, as Tampa has significant holes at linebacker, right tackle and in the backfield. However, the Buccaneers' secondary was just epically awful in 2011, and it'll remain that way until the team commits to finding an elite-caliber cover corner who can free up Tampa's burgeoning pass rush and also eliminate opposing wideouts. Aqib Talib, regardless of whether or not he goes to the clink, is a quality No. 2 corner in the NFL, but has struggled with being "the guy" ever since Tampa rolled the dice on him in the 2008 draft. Claiborne's presence would take immediate heat off of Talib (if he's still there) and perhaps even restore some order to Tampa's once-great secondary.
6) St. Louis Rams - Riley Reiff, OT Iowa
If the Rams are sitting at this spot, it'll be safe to assume Daniel Snyder hooked up St. Louis with enough draft picks to rebuild two different franchises. In that case, the Rams can hunker down and focus on finally getting Sam Bradford the blindside protection he deserves (while ejecting Jason Smith's bloated contract in the process). Reiff is strong enough to bulldoze on the right side of the line, but he's a pure technician who could quickly find himself playing the left side.
The receiver-starved Jaguars can't turn their draft card in fast enough if Justin Blackmon is available, but should they choose to beef up their piecemeal defensive line with this selection, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram makes tons of sense for Jacksonville. The main criticism with Ingram is his sub-par arm length and height, but the Jags have seen enough of Dwight Freeney over the last decade to know that short stature and explosive athleticism can be a very potent mix.
Armed with two selections in the the first round, the Bengals should have the ammo to move up and snag their dream running back in this draft: Alabama's Trent Richardson. Richardson didn't run at the Combine due to recently undergoing surgery, but he's overwhelmingly strong and thickly built, and has the horsepower to swing for the fences whenever he gets so much as a glimpse of daylight. Top-10-worthy backs are rare, but Richardson has the measurables and drive to go at this spot, and he'd likely be the final piece for a Cincinnati offense that is close to being something special.
Carolina passed over a franchise defensive tackle (Marcell Dareus) in favor of quarterback extraordinaire Cam Newton last spring, and though that move was a screaming success, it did the Panthers no favors in the trenches throughout the 2011 season. That hole can be fixed in one fell swoop with Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox, who was a run-eating terror for the Bulldogs last season. Cox flashes above-average ability as an interior pass-rusher, but his jarring athleticism and ability to blast the point of attack are what will separate him from an extremely talented defensive tackle class.
The Bills know they have to get bigger, faster and stronger at defensive end, and now that they're officially committed to the 4-3 scheme, Buffalo can draft North Carolina's Quinton Coples with confidence at this spot. Coples made his name as a run-destroying end in Chapel Hill, but his pass-rush ability is better than advertised. The only real question with Coples is effort, but he should be plenty fired up while playing alongside Buffalo's powerful defensive tackle duo of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.
This is the part of the draft where Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe could enter the conversation, but if the Chiefs make a move for Paul Soliai in free agency, they might look to upgrade the inside linebacker spot opposite Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson, Kuechly looked unbelievable at the Combine on Monday, flashing improved wheels and enough weight to be viable option in the 3-4 scheme, but his measurables, while very solid, will still take a backseat to his genius-level diagnostic skills and flawless tackling ability. Think of him as a taller, faster Zach Thomas.
The Seahawks' defense is sort of built inside out, as they have a bevy speedsters in the secondary and quality play at linebacker, but absolutely nothing on the defensive line. Seattle will have to fix that flaw posthaste if it wants to build on a mildly successful 2011 season, and the addition of a fearsome interior presence like LSU's Michael Brockers would be an ideal start. Brockers isn't a knockout pass-rusher, but excels at controlling the middle and erasing the run. His prototypical arm length (35 inches) should also make him a tipped-ball machine at the next level.
13) Arizona Cardinals - Jonathan Martin, OT Stanford
The Cardinals' completely lack of pass protection can almost be completely attributed to the team's unwillingness to draft offensive linemen early, and with the assumption that tackle Levi Brown will skip town this spring, (probably good news if you're a Cards fan), it's time for Arizona to do quarterback Kevin Kolb a favor and acquire a blue-chip-caliber protector. Martin will make an immediate splash on the right side, but he's fast enough to eventually get reps on the blindside. He'll also quickly bolster the ground game in the desert, as he's the best run blocker in this draft class, hands down.
Big D needs to use a high draft pick on a big corner in this draft, but if Jerry Jones isn't satisfied with selecting a character-concern-riddled defensive back like North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins or Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick at this spot, don't be surprised if Dallas nabs a pass-rushing counterpart for DeMarcus Ware. Alabama's Courtney Upshaw is a do-everything linebacker who can rip the backfield, eliminate the run and play in coverage, and his upside suggests he could actually improve as a pass-rusher in the NFL. In a draft that is deep at cornerback, the Cowboys can afford to make this selection--the potential of which immediately becomes more viable if the Cowboys use their Franchise Tag on Laurent Robinson instead of Anthony Spencer.
15) Philadelphia Eagles - Dontari Poe, DT Memphis
Everyone wants to draw the Poe-to-3-4-based-team parallel right now, thanks to his mind-blowing performance in Indy on Monday morning. However, the reality for Poe is that he's big and fast enough to become a rare, devastating interior stuffer in the 4-3, similar to former Vikings great Pat Williams. Philadelphia had great success rushing the passer out of their "Wide 9" scheme last season, but even outstanding play from ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin couldn't hide the fact that almost any NFL running back could make the Eagles' defensive trenches like the backstretch of the Indianapolis 500. A big, athletic defensive tackle is sorely needed in Philadelphia, and Poe fits the bill.
Arguably one of the best guard to come out of college in quite some time, Stanford's David DeCastro is a prospect who, if available at this spot, will have new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano salivating like Pavlov's dogs. This would be the smart pick for an offense that has no intention of abandoning the ground and pound strategy anytime soon, but is very weak on the right side of the offensive line.
17) Miami (from Cincinnati) - Nick Perry, DE USC
Miami's No.1 goal in this draft should be to lock down a big-time pass-rusher, as they've skated by way too long on Cameron Wake's reputation. By trading down to this spot, the Dolphins can take a swing at up-and-coming USC defensive end Nick Perry, who followed up a strong junior season in Southern California with a berserk Combine performance (for which he added 20 pounds to his frame), cementing his status as one of the more intriguing defensive end options in this draft. Perry needs to improve things like pad level and consistent hand placement, but his physical skills are undeniable, and he's an ultra-fierce pass-rusher with could dominate at end in the 4-3
Georgia's Cordy Glenn essentially shushed Mike Adams' momentum by throwing down an exceptional performance at the Combine, but where Glenn goes in this draft purely depends on whether a team likes him at guard or right tackle. San Diego needs both positions, and could look to Glenn as an enabler in the ground game--a lineman with the big body and athleticism to make considerable noise in the second level of defense.
19) Chicago Bears - Michael Floyd, WR Notre Dame
This would pretty much be a dream scenario for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who desperately needs a big, fast, reliable target in Chicago's receiver corps. Hopefully the Bears now know that Cutler is an investment, not a punching bag. For him to succeed, Chicago's front office must protect him and equip him with viable receiving weapons. Consider the Floyd selection a big upgrade in the latter department.
20) Tennessee Titans - Janoris Jenkins, CB North Alabama
The Janoris Jenkins selection becomes much more ideal if Cortland Finnegan leaves via free agency. Jenkins lacks elite size for a cornerback, but he's arguably the best technician of any corner in this draft, outside of maybe Morris Claiborne. Jenkins is a fantastic value at this spot, as he could've been a top 12 pick in 2011.
21) Houston Texans (from Miami) - Kendall Wright, WR Baylor
First off, the Dolphins might have to kick a later pick back to the Bengals in order to snare both of Cincinnati's selections in this draft, but that might not be such a big deal if Miami can move this pick to a team that has its eye on, say, a big-time receiver. Kendall Wright's Combine performance downright sucked, which is actually great news for the receiver-needy teams picking late in the first round. Wright is not a 4.6 receiver, as you'll see when he blazes a hot 40-yard dash time in Waco at his pro day. However, Wright's hands, route-running and willingness to go over the middle are what him such a special prospect. He'll take plenty of heat off of Andre Johnson in Houston, and might even contribute in the return game.
22) Cleveland Browns - David Wilson, RB Virginia Tech
For those of you playing at home, Cleveland just added a big-time playmaker receiver (Justin Blackmon) and a bullish speedster running back (Virginia Tech's David Wilson) with their first two selections. Even scarier is the thought that Blackmon and Wilson might be playing with a quarterback the Browns acquired via free agency (Matt Flynn?). Wilson is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball, and as a one-cut runner, he'll be a nightmare playing behind the Browns' stacked offensive line.
23) Detroit Lions - Mike Adams, OT Ohio State
Adams has some work to do if he wants to pad his stock a bit after coming up short during strength drills at the Combine, but teams selecting in this portion of the draft would be foolish to simply dismiss the Ohio State standout based on his sub-par bench press. Adams' arms are obscenely long (34 inches), which makes him an ideal protector on the left side, and he has outstanding footwork for a tackle, making it easier for him to recover whenever he's beaten around the edge. For a Lions team that has taken Jeff Backus as far as he can go, it's time to upgrade and find premier protection for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Mike Adams can be that protector.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers - Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Alabama
Eventually the Steelers will realize that opposing teams target cornerback William Gay week in and week out. And while Ike Taylor is still capable of playing at a high level, a physical, speedster upgrade is needed in a secondary that was a black-and-gold-clad infirmary this season. Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick flashed rare speed (4.43) at the Combine earlier this week, and he has the hops and length to become a premier disruptor against the pass. Steelers fans will see him as the next Mel Blount; I think he's more in the Ronnie Lott mold--an outright punisher in the secondary who is more than willing to come up and smack the run.
Denver's outside pass-rush currently borders on insane, though the same cannot be said for their interior line. The Broncos' need for a defensive tackle capable of controlling the trenches should lead them to Penn State's Devon Still, who excels at eating the run, and will occasionally flash the ability to penetrate and cause problems in the backfield. Inconsistent effort is the issue with Still, but his size and strength will make him an enticing option in this portion of the draft.
It goes without saying that the Dolphins' have mortgaged their safety position far too often over the last decade. With new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle overseeing the secondary, perhaps this is the year when Miami finally gets its do-everything safety--an instinctual leader for the Dolphins at a level of defense that definitely needs a bit of direction at this point. Smith looked fabulous during coverage drills at the Combine, and his ability to dismantle the run has already been well documented. A big-time safety in the Brock Marion mold.
The only reason New England won't be trading out of this pick is because their secondary is an abysmal unit right now and needs immediate resuscitation. What the Patriots need is a quarterback in the secondary--a safety equally adept at moving up to snuff the run or dropping back into a centerfielder role. Barron doesn't have breathtaking wheels for the position, but his instincts and ball skills are top notch.
This is Green Bay's attempt to find a speedster edge-rusher who can take some of the focus off of Clay Matthews. Branch should be equally effective standing up or with his hand in the dirt, and he can get to the edge in a blink. Branch also flashed an impressive inside move at Clemson, so you know he has plenty of pass-rush pinache up his sleeve.
A selection that could save some wear and tear on Ray Rice while also adding an extra gear to the Ravens' running attack. Lamar Miller was a blur in the 40-yard dash last Sunday, and the fact that he pairs rare speed with the solid build (214 pounds) necessary to withstand NFL-caliber punishment is a big deal.
Hill greatly improved his potential as downfield threat when he blazed a low 4.3 at the Combine, and he comes from a program that has produced big-time wideouts (Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas) as of late. Hill will need to further prove his ability to run routes effectively at the next level, but his presence would immediately give Vernon Davis and Frank Gore some much-needed breathing room. The question now becomes whether or not quarterback Alex Smith will be able to throw the ball far enough downfield for Hill.
31) St. Louis Rams (from New England) - Jerel Worthy, DT Michigan State
Jeff Fisher knows the value of a great defensive tackle (especially when they're absolutely okay with stepping on their opponent's head sans helmet), and because the Patriots are absolutely allergic to using both their first-round picks in any given year, St. Louis shouldn't have any problem trading with New England in order to back into round one and nab a franchise-caliber defensive tackle. Michigan State's Jerel Worthy is a certified run killer along the interior, but don't sleep on his ability to penetrate and wreak havoc in the backfield. Worthy's till raw as a pass-rusher, but his tape suggests there's room for him to grow in that department.
Another BPA situation for the Giants. Big surprise. The selection of Stanford's Coby Fleener at this spot would give Eli Manning a certified seam threat (the area where he usually does his best work) while actually taking some focus off of wideouts Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Fleener should be viewed as the best tight end in this draft class after his pro day on March 22, as he runs particularly well for such a massive (6'6" 255) pass-catching prospect. And though Fleener doesn't boast natural in-line skills for the position, he excels in the role of an Aaron Hernandez-type tight end--an absolute mismatch against almost any defender assigned to him.